When it comes to blissful, comforting sleep, most of us picture a plush, inviting bed. But if you’ve dealt with back pain that interrupts your sleep, you may have resorted to sleeping on the floor every now and then to seek some kind of comfort.
While it might make you feel better in the short-term, you may be wondering if sleeping on the floor is actually good for you. According to Ramiz Fargo, MD, medical director for the Sleep Disorders Center and a sleep medicine physician at Loma Linda University Health, there isn’t existing research to support that sleeping on the floor can be beneficial and anecdotal evidence is varied. “Some people say the firm support of the floor relieves their back pain, but you also run the risk of worsening pain without proper support,” he says.
Why a firm surface might be good
Instead of resorting to a hard floor in an effort to relieve your back pain, you may be better off adjusting your current bed situation. A 2015 review paper suggested that medium-firm mattresses seemed to be the best for decreasing spinal pain. (There wasn’t any specific criteria for what qualified a mattress as “medium firm”—people in the studies subjectively determined how firm their mattresses were.)
That makes sense, because a firmer mattress (as opposed to a soft one) promotes better spine alignment and may increase sleep quality, says MH advisor Daniel Giordano, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., co-founder of Bespoke Treatments. Both good alignment and sleep quality can help decrease back pain. Sleeping on a firmer surface like the floor is also believed by some to help with sciatica or posture problems, although this isn’t backed by research.
“One caveat is that it’s hard to tell if it’s the firmness of the mattress that helps you avoid pain, or whether decreased pain is because you’re getting better sleep,” he says. “It makes sense that if you go from a soft to a firm mattress or even to sleeping on the floor, you might have less pain because you’re moving more, rather than being stuck in one position.” (Check out Giordano's top exercises that help you avoid back pain here.)
Why sleeping on the floor might not be so great
For some people, sleeping on the floor may actually cause or lead to increased back pain. “Additionally, sleeping on the floor or a hard surface when you’re experiencing joint pain or if you have arthritis could increase pain and might not be the best idea—it may also put too much pressure on certain areas and shut down blood flow,” Giordano says.
Not only that, but if you suffer from allergies or other breathing problems, being on the floor will likely increase your exposure to irritants like dust and mold, which could exacerbate your symptoms. Similarly, while it might feel good to sleep on a cold floor in the hot summer months, doing so in the winter may rapidly decrease your body heat, making you feel colder and more susceptible to illness, especially if you already have conditions that make you feel colder, such as anemia, hypothyroidism and diabetes. It’s also best to avoid sleeping on the floor with a child or baby for safety reasons, as well.
Tune up sleep quality wherever you’re sleeping
Since better sleep is associated with less pain, Giordano recommends doing whatever you can to improve your sleep environment, whether that’s changing your mattress, turning down the thermostat, cutting out screen time earlier than usual and keeping your room as dark as possible. But ultimately, if sleeping on the floor is what helps improve your sleep situation, have it. “Ultimately,” Giordano says, “whatever results in better, undisturbed quality sleep will be what helps you feel better in the morning.”
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